If you’ve ever read the David Morell novel that is the inspiration for First Blood, you know its a much different story. Since the novel is over 40 years old, I think we can proceed to drop spoilers. In the book, Rambo is a much more tortured person, and much more violent if you can believe that.
For a character whose name has become unduly synonymous with over-the-top violence, John Rambo’s introductory movie has a mere body count of one. That’s right, only one person is killed in the entire movie—and it’s the jerk deputy who falls out of a helicopter. Plus three dogs.
Contrarily, in the book, Rambo kills all of the sheriff’s deputies who chase him into the woods and the civilian dog handler instead of just wounding them like he did in the movie. Also, Sheriff Will Teasle (Brian Dennehey) is a more central character in the book—you could even call him the protagonist. He’s a Korean War veteran, which contrasts with Rambo’s Vietnam Vet experience. There is a hint of this in the movie. When we see Teasle at his desk, behind him you can see his service awards in a shadowbox, including what looks like a bronze star.
First Blood (1982)
First Blood was a movie unlike anything anyone had seen to that point. The height of action movies before Rambo came along was something like The Taking of Pelham One Two Three or Deliverance. This movie starts slow enough, with the movie’s elegant score of mournful trumpets and heavy drums evoking the sadness of men destroyed by war.
Tension builds until an abused and arrested Rambo finally loses it and escapes the Sheriff’s station, going through deputies like they’re not even there. Then we get a cool car chase as Teasle gives chase in his squad car as Rambo flees on a stolen dirt bike, leading him into the mountains. Teasle’s car flips just as things get too steep even for the bike. Rambo heads into the trees on foot, and the stage is set.
Then we get an awesome stalking sequence as Teasle’s men attempt to track Rambo down.
Later, when the National Guard seal Rambo in an old mine by destroying the entrance with a rocket launcher, the movie morphs for a while into a claustrophobic horror as Rambo uses his makeshift tunic to create a torch and desperately find his way out of the mine in absolute darkness.
When he emerges, he’s pissed, and proceeds to destroy the downtown of Hope, and hunt down the Sheriff in his own station. It’s a heck of ride.
We meet John J Rambo, Vietnam Veteran, Green Beret, and escaped POW as he heads to an idyllic lake-side homestead belonging to his war buddy Delmar Barry.
He inquires about his friend, whom we later learn is the last remaining member of his special forces team, and is told by Delmar’s mother that he recently died of cancer contracted as a result of exposure to the anti-foliage chemical Agent Orange, which was revealed after the war to be highly carcinogenic. You can see any spirit Rambo had in him leave him almost instantly. He leaves a photo of Delmar with his mom, and throws a pocketful of mementos from the war into a rubbish pile as he heads back to the road.
He begins to wander, maybe headed toward Portland, when he’s stopped by small-town Sheriff Will Teasle (Brian Denehey) on the side of the road for looking like a hippie with long hair and a beat-up army jacket, about to walk into his town. Instead of taking him somewhere to get something to eat, the Sheriff drives Rambo through Hope, Washington and leaves him on the highway headed out of town, basically telling him he’s not welcome.
Rambo defies the Sheriff and immediately walks back toward town. This leads to his arrest for vagrancy and subsequent abuse by a sadistic deputy that knocks Rambo back to the torture he endured as a prisoner, triggering his significant PTSD. He assaults a number of officers, escapes from the police station, steals a motorcycle, and leads Teasle on a chase that ends with Rambo scrambling into the mountains in jeans and a tank top with nothing more than his survival knife, which he swiped from the station during his escape.
The sadistic Deputy Sgt. Art Galt (Jack Starrett) attempts to shoot Rambo from a helicopter when he’s clinging to a cliff with a Winchester Model 88 lever action rifle.
When Rambo hits the helicopter’s windshield with a rock, the pilot jerks and Galt falls from the chopper and is killed on the rocks below.
Rambo retrieves the Model 88 and later uses it off-screen to shoot two dobermans that are pursuing him through the forest. He then runs out of ammunition and has to kill the final dog with his knife.
Other than that, Rambo only gets his hands on two guns in the film. The big daddy of them all is the M60 machine gun. Symbolic of the Vietnam War during which it was introduced and earned the nickname “The Pig,” it’s a crew served weapon that was actually designed to be used the way Rambo does, if necessary, served by one person and fired from the hip.
Normally, when the M60 is supported by a platoon, multiple troops carry belted 7.62 NATO ammunition and replacement barrels. When firing, one soldier was usually responsible for loading and feeding ammunition into the gun to prevent jams or misfeeds.
In the final act of the film, after it’s believed he was killed by a rocket fired into a mine where we was hiding, Rambo hijacks an Army truck and uses it to blow up a gas station, but not before taking the M60 and a few boxes of ammo from the back of the truck.
He strings spare ammo belts across his chest and waist as many soldiers did in Vietnam and uses his left hand to feed ammo into the gun when firing. The gun is equipped with a sling, making it easier for Rambo to operate and carry solo.
He uses the gun to take out the town’s electricity by blasting transformers, and he destroys a number of buildings, including shooting out the police station. He also uses it to wound Teasle, who is waiting in ambush on the roof. Rambo sets a fire at a nearby gun shop, causing several explosions that mask his approach to the police station, and cause Teasle to raise his head on the roof, giving away his position.
The poster of Stallone holding the M60 became the iconic representation of the Rambo character and was plastered on everything from lunch boxes to pajamas. The moment was recreated in the sequel, but we’ll get there.
Rambo also briefly uses an M16A1 rifle, which he takes from a downed sheriff’s deputy from the forest stalking sequence, though he doesn’t pick up any spare ammo, leaving him only with the 20-round magazine in the rifle.
He expends this rather quickly, spraying full-auto suppressive fire at a group of National Guardsmen, who corner him in the mine he’d been using as shelter.
Other than that, Rambo uses his knife, a spear, and an array of booby traps, but no other firearms.
The movie famously had a different ending that more closely followed the ending of the novel in which Col. Trautman (Richard Crenna), Rambo’s former commander and mentor, kills the tortured soldier, believing him too far gone mentally. To be fair, in the book Rambo kills a whole bunch of cops and National Guardsman, instead of wounding them like in the movie, so Trautman was a bit more justified.
In the alternate movie ending, when he’s finally cornered in the shot-out police station by an army of state police and Guardsmen, Rambo asks Trautman to kill him with his 1911A1 sidearm. After much hesitation, Rambo forces him to do it, basically firing one shot into his own abdomen. Rambo crumbles to the floor of the police station against a filing cabinet, and dies.
Needless to say, the ending tested horribly with audiences, and it was changed to one where Trautman talks Rambo into surrendering, saving his life—though a grainy version of the grim ending was included in DVD and Blu Ray releases of First Blood.
Sheriff Will Teasle
There are few antagonists in film better than Sheriff Will Teasle, thanks mostly to a great performance from Dennehey. As Sheriff, he carries a duty weapon appropriate for the times: a stainless S&W Model 66 revolver, an updated version of the .357 Magnum Model 19, also referred to as the Combat Magnum.
Teasle carries the gun through the whole movie and draws it as he climbs up onto the police station roof near the end of the movie, but he never actually fires it.
When Teasle and his deputies head into the woods in an attempt to hunt Rambo down (did they really think the white hats were a good idea?) most of the deputies are carrying M16A1 rifles, but Teasle has a different gun. He’s carrying an HK93A2, a descendent of the HK43, which would have been fairly state of the art at the time.
Teasle drops the rifle when Rambo pounces on him and puts his knife to the Sheriff’s throat.
After he hears about Rambo’s stolen army truck blowing up a gas station on the edge of town, he gears up by pulling an AR-15/SP1 rifle from the gun cabinet in his office and stuffing a few 20-round mags in his pockets. The gun doesn’t do him much good. He takes a few shots at Rambo with the rifle through a skylight just before several rounds from Rambo’s M60 tear through the roof and wound him severely.
While the M60 became Rambo’s signature firearm, the character really wouldn’t be the same without the weapon that never left his hip, unless he happened to be captured.
Teasle first finds Rambo’s custom survival knife and sheath tucked into the back of his belt and takes it from him before he is arrested. The blade was designed for the movie at Stallone’s request by the late master Arkansas knife maker Jimmy Lile. Lile had been making knives full time since 1970 and had become a respected custom knife maker and remained so until his death in 1991.
Lile’s innovative design incorporated features that he felt would make it a more all around tool for survival than just a knife. It featured a 9-inch blade with 14 split saw teeth along the spine, Phillips and flat-head screwdrivers incorporated into the guard which also include holes so the knife could more easily be lashed to a pole to make a spear. The watertight hollow handle had a compass in the non-magnetic aluminum pommel cap. The original design has a small holding knife in the hollow handle, but the final version included a survival kit with fish hooks, line, needle and thread, and matches. Rambo famously uses the needle and thread to sew up a gash in his own arm after falling through a tree in the film.
For everything you’d ever want to know about Rambo’s movie knives, head to cartertown.com.
The first three Rambo movies all include some rough injury that Rambo has to endure, which was a pretty prominent president considering the firs tone.
After Rambo is forced to leap from a cliff face into a gigantic pine tree, he hits the ground and finds that he has a pretty serious gash across his right arm. Once Gault falls from the chopper and he has a moment to rest, he opens up the handle on his survival knife, pulls out a needle and thread, and proceeds to sew up the blood-spewing gash.
I don’t care when you watch it or when it was made, that scene looks absolutely real, even on Blu Ray, and makes you shiver a little at the thought of having to do such a thing.
Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985)
While the taught thriller First Blood was a surprise success that introduced the character of John Rambo (who was never supposed to survive the ending), it was the bigger than life sequel that cemented the character in pop culture, along with the image of a shirtless Stallone with a red headband, firing his M60.
We find Rambo at the beginning of this film serving hard labor, literally breaking rocks, in prison for the crimes he committed in the first movie.
Rambo is offered the opportunity to score a win for the POWs and MIA soldiers, Marines, and sailors of the Vietnam War who were never recovered, as well as a presidential pardon, by a familiar face who shows up as a visitor: Col. Sam Trautman.
The mission is to head back to and old prison camp in Vietnam, where he himself was held prisoner during the war, as part of a covert CIA operation. His mission objective is to take photos that prove POWs are still being held in captivity in 1985, which would then be used to give congress the evidence it needed to authorize rescue missions to recover the men.
In reality, the mission was a smokescreen and the CIA spook running the operation intended for it to fail. He also didn’t expect Rambo to survive, let alone actually find American POWs, which he does. And then all hell breaks loose.
Now on to the hardware.
The sequel paid tribute to the original by giving Rambo the same machine gun he used to tear up the town in First Blood at the end of the Part 2 to tear up the POW camp, but, as a sequel should be, it’s just a bit different this time around.
The M60 E3 is a lightweight improved version of the M60 with a number of updated features. It has a bipod attached to the receiver, an ambidextrous safety, universal sling attachments, a carrying handle on the barrel, and a simplified gas system and a vertical fore grip to help make it more controllable when fired from the hip.
In the final act, after Rambo beats the Russian interrogator hand-to-hand in the helicopter and “convinces” the pilot to exit, he takes control and lands the chopper at the POW camp after using its on-board weapons to soften the enemy defenses from the air.
On his way to free the prisoners, he grabs the door gunner M60E3 off its mount and wraps a belt of ammunition around his arm, and uses it as his primary weapon until the end of the film. He covers the POWs as they board the helicopter and takes out the last few enemy soldiers. (He also cements a firm action movie tradition of hitting every bad guy with every burst, while their AK fire miraculously misses him every time.)
He puts the gun back on its mount after the POWs are aboard, and again uses it when he gets them back to the CIA base, in perhaps the movie’s most memorable scene, to chew up every piece of equipment in the high-tech control center in a rage until the belt of 7.62 NATO ammo runs dry.
At the top of the movie, we get a somewhat extensive “gearing up” montage before Rambo sets off on his mission. Shots of him preparing his gear are intercut with shots of the CIA-hired mercenary crew readying the plane that will take him to his insertion point, where he will parachute into the jungle. Some materials accompanying the film and some associated products describe it as a HALO jump (High Altitude, Low Open), but Rambo is actually executing a low-altitude jump using a static line.
He preps a bunch of gear he never actually gets to use. When he jumps from the plane, the lines get tangled and he gets hung up and dragged by the plane until he is able to cut through the line that got snagged.
Unfortunately, he has to ditch a lot of his gear to get to that line, meaning he hits the jungle with nothing but his knife and his bow bag, containing his broken down compound bow, arrows, and explosive tips.
One of the weapons he loses is a Heckler & Koch HK94A3 standing in for an HK MP5A3 submachine gun. The HK94A3 is the semi-auto civilian version of the MP5A3, which can be distinguished by the lack of a paddle magazine release in favor of a magazine release button. When he’s prepping and loading the gun, we see Rambo look through a 3x scope mounted on top, but in the plane, the scope seems to have been removed.
Something that makes this gun stand out: it features the not often seen slimline handguard instead of the much more familiar and bulkier “tropical” handguard.
After the rescue of the first POW during the recon mission, the river pirates Rambo and Co used to get to the camp turn on them and reveal they are planning to turn the pair in for a payout.
They take Co’s rifle and as she argues with the boat captain, Rambo pulls two push daggers he has hidden in his belt (which we see him stow during the mission prep montage) and stabs one of the pirates with both and using his body to shield himself from the captain’s pistol fire.
When the pirate’s body falls, we see Rambo has his cut-down Remington 870 shotgun in his hands, which he then uses to shoot every one of the pirates on the boat, except for the one who tries to sneak on deck from the hold, who Co cuts down with her AK.
During the scene, Rambo slam fires the shotgun, which means he holds the trigger down and works the pump action. On older model shotguns, doing this caused a round to be fired as soon as it was chambered. The technique was often employed in WWI to clear trenches.
The addition of the trigger disconnect on modern shotguns, intended as a safety feature, prevents today’s pumps from executing a slam fire. On those, if you hold the trigger down and work the action, all you do is chamber a new round. You must release the trigger for the internal hammer to reset.
Once Rambo takes out the pirates, he finds the boat in the crosshairs of an enemy patrol boat armed with a twin .50 caliber machine gun. Before it can maneuver into a shooting position, Rambo gets Co and the POW off just in time, and takes cover in the boats hold through the first salvo of machine gun fire.
When the gun needs a new belt of ammo, Rambo makes his way to the weapon locker the captain showed him when he was bragging earlier int he film, and retrieves an RPG-7 rocket-propelled grenade launcher.
In reality, the launcher looks to be the same as the mock-up launchers used in Red Dawn (as do a lot of the “Soviet” firearms) and not a genuine RPG-7.
The warhead can be clearly seen with Soviet markings, but when translated, they mean “Cartridges 7.62mm 1943 year.” Kind of strange to find on a 70mm rocket.
Rambo retrieves the launcher, flips up the iron sights, aims, and fires at the patrol boat, just as it begins firing again. The boat is destroyed, and on fire, but the burning hull crashes into the pirate boat, just as Rambo jumps free with his bow bag.
Since he doesn’t have any of the firearms he prepared for the mission, Rambo has to rely on what he can pick up in the field. He gets his first AKM from an indigenous CIA agent, Co Bao, after they split up following the river boat shootout. He uses it until he is abandoned by his CIA employers and taken captive on the hilltop.
Later, when Rambo escapes from the enemy camp with Co’s help, he is able to grab his knife, which was used to torture him, but otherwise has to rely on enemy weapons for the rest of the movie. (Co hangs on to his bow and returns it to him, so he has that as well.)
During the escape, he picks up another enemy AKM assault rifle with a magical never-ending magazine, and some snagged hand grenades, to take out a number of enemy pursuers during a breakneck, nighttime, down-hill sprint through the jungle with soldiers and helicopters giving chase.
When morning breaks after his escape, Rambo and Co have a peaceful moment that actually turns briefly romantic as they hammer out some rough plans to head to Thailand before trying to get back to the U.S. together. Just as they are preparing to move on, Co is shockingly cut down by a barrage of enemy rifle fire.
Rambo picks up his AKM and fires down at their pursuers accurately enough to take out all but one of the patrol, the one who fired the fatal shots at Co, who flees toward reinforcements.
Co dies in his arms, and Rambo’s goals change slightly. (Production Note: the original cut of the movie had Rambo screaming “Nooooo!” after Co dies as the camera pulled away from him into an overhead shot. When test audiences openly laughed, the shot was cut.)
He no longer cares about getting back alive, and instead sets out on a mission of revenge by doing what he knows how to do best, stalking the men who are chasing him in a scene very reminiscent of the forrest stalking scene in First Blood, only this time, he’s not trying to wound a bunch of cops, but killing trained Soviet commandos. And he does it mostly with his knife and compound bow, but more on those later.
Rambo uses another rocket launcher near the end of the film in a sequence that includes one of the biggest weapons gaffs in action movie history.
At the end the helicopter chase scene where Rambo’s underarmed Huey loaded with POWs flees a Russian Hind with the Soviet commander in the pilot seat, Rambo plays possum in his chopper, which appears to have crashed in a shallow riverbed.
As the Hind moves in for a closer look, Rambo springs to action in the cockpit and fires a M72 LAW anti-tank rocket launcher, reducing the Hind to a pile of, flaming wreckage.
First of all, Rambo fires the rocket through a large hole in the helicopter’s windshield, which doesn’t appear until right before he fires.
Second, the film editors must have thought the audience wouldn’t have realized that Rambo fired the LAW…since the launcher doesn’t really fire, and instead is shown in a quick smash cut with a zoom and the enemy Hind exploding. So, they edited in a couple frames of Rambo’s hand firing the RPG from earlier.
The problem is the RPG has a pistol grip and a conventional trigger, whereas the LAW trigger is a button located on top of the tube, which has no pistol grip.
Once you see it, it’s hard not to notice it every time.
Rambo spends a good chunk of the film roughing it and combatting enemies without a firearm, instead armed only with his compound bow and knife.
He had a survival knife in First Blood, and the blade became synonymous with the character, but the bow was a new addition for the sequel—and a fun one at that, since it conjures up all kinds of images of the half Native American using a bow in the jungles of Vietnam during the war.
For this mission, Rambo uses a Hoyt compound bow as his silent, and deadly weapon. It’s something of a magic bow, in that the limbs can be removed with an Allen wrench so it can be broken down and fit entirely in his quiver bag. How he is able to assemble the bow in the jungle in the dark without a bow press is left a mystery, though we do get a few shots of him assembling the bow—all we see is him tightening down bolts with a big T-shaped hex wrench.
His black arrows are likewise made for stowability—the shafts unscrew into two pieces, and the broadheads are stored separately.
During the nighttime recon mission of the old POW camp, Rambo assembles his bow for the first time on the edge of the camp, and it’s fitted with a stabilizer that also includes a flashlight, though the light is never activated in the film.
Rambo uses the bow, and his boot knife, to silently take out a number of sentries before exfiltrating the camp with a freed POW in tow.
Later, after Rambo’s escape and Co’s death, Rambo again assembles his bow (off screen) and fits the arrows with the explosive tips we saw him preparing in the gearing-up montage at the beginning of the film.
They appear to be some kind of high-explosive with a plunger detonator that have a devastating effect on enemy vehicles.
He uses broadheads to take out the Soviet commandoes one-by-one in the rain, before switching to the explosive tips when the NVA regulars show up.
Rambo uses his last explosive arrow to utterly destroy the enemy soldier who shot Co and abused him at the prison camp.
In real life, the bow was a Hoyt bow nicknamed “The Torque” that was specifically designed for the film with an all black paintjob and based on the Hoyt Spectra bow, which is very similar.
The bow was actually released as the Hoyt “Rambo,” once the movie became a hit, in a very similar configuration to the bow in the movie, though the limbs were not all black.
Rambo’s survival knife was again designed by Arkansas knife smith Jimmy Like and is very similar to the First Blood knife. It has a blade that’s about an inch longer and wider than the previous knife, and the center is coated in a matte black instead of the bead-blasted finish of the first knife, which really makes it shimmer and stand out, especially in darker scenes.
The handle is wrapped in black cordage this time instead of green. and the hand guard includes a flat-head and Phillips screwdriver, same as the first one. This time, the sheath is black leather instead of brown with a collapsible diamond sharpening rod stored in a slender pouch on the front. The First Blood knife had a brown leather sheath and a pouch in the front for a small sharpening stone.
The knife again has a hollow handle containing a few small survival items. While Rambo doesn’t use the needle and thread to sew himself up in Part II, he uses the compass in the knife’s silver pommel to get his bearings after his botched insertion. Later, he uses the matches stored in the knife handle to set fire to a dry cornfield full of enemy troops.
When Rambo first meets up with Co Bao, she is caring an AKM rifle with a sling as her go-to gun. She has the rifle through the initial insertion in the enemy camp and uses it to fight the river pirates before the army gunboat shows up.
After swimming from the boat, Co meets up with Rambo on the shore. Soon after they go their separate ways. Rambo leaves his bow bag with Co, and takes her AKM as he attempts to get the freed POW to the extraction site.
Why he leaves Co with a weapon she couldn’t possible use is kind of a mystery…maybe he thinks she can sell it, or maybe its actually part of his plan in case he gets capture and she has to help him escape. Either way, that’s what happens. She brings him the bag when she breaks him out of the prison camp, so he has it for the stalking scene with the Soviet commandoes.
Later, when Rambo is taken captive by the NVA troops, Co Bao (Julia Nickson-Soul) disguises herself as a prostitute to gain access to the camp, presumably having stolen the motorbike and red dress from the actual prostitute we see when they are first surveilling the camp.
Once she takes care of her would-be customer, she unveils a MAC-10 with a long suppressor and proceeds to skulk through the camp until she finds the hut where Rambo is being tortured. The suppressor is actually fake, and her gun is plenty loud, so it’s likely it was includes just to make the gun look a bit more intimidating.
Co uses it to blast the men in the hut through the floor as Rambo takes care of his interrogator and leaps out a window after grabbing his knife.
In the first film we had the arm sewing scene, in this one, we have a straight up torture scene.
When Rambo defies his orders to only take photographs of any POWs he might find by actually freeing one and attempting to bring him back, the helicopter sent to extract him flies off, leaving Rambo at the top of a hill with an entire battalion of NVA troops in close pursuit.
He and the escaped POW are taken prisoner and after being hung in a pit of swine filth for a few hours, Rambo is moved to a hut for interrogation when the Soviet commanders show up.
When simple interrogation yields nothing, they move on to “enhanced interrogation techniques.” Namely they strap Rambo to a steel box spring that’s hooked up to a generator and proceed to zap the hell out of him over and over. They place his knife in a hit grill, and when Rambo refuses to talk, his interrogator, Sgt. Yushin, drags the white hot tip of his knife across his cheek, leaving a scar.
Eventually, Co shows up and helps him escape after he gets off the electrocution rack by pretending to send a message to his superiors—instead, he tells the CIA spook who decided to leave him behind that he’s coming for him, and then turns on his guards while Co blasts them through the wood floor with her MAC-10.